Tag Archives: native americans

Shielded Native American sites thrust into debate over dams

A little-known federal program that avoids publicizing its accomplishments to protect from looters the thousands of Native American sites it’s tasked with managing has been caught up in a big net.

The Federal Columbia River System Cultural Resources Program tracks some 4,000 historical sites that also include homesteads and missions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Now it’s contributing information as authorities prepare a court-ordered environmental impact statement concerning struggling salmon and the operation of 14 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.

A federal judge urged officials to consider breaching four of those dams on the Snake River.

“Because of the scale of the EIS, there’s no practical way for us, even if we wanted to, to provide a map of each and every site that we consider,” said Sean Hess, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest Region archaeologist. “There are some important sites out there that we don’t talk about a lot because of concerns about what would happen because of vandalism.”

Fish survival, hydropower, irrigation and navigation get the most attention and will be components in the environmental review due out in 2021. But at more than a dozen public meetings in the four states to collect feedback, the cultural resources program has equal billing. Comments are being accepted through Jan. 17.

The review process is being conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, an umbrella law that covers the well-known Endangered Species Act. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been listed as federally protected species over the past 25 years.

But NEPA also requires equal weight be given to other laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, which is where the cultural resources program comes in. Among the 4,000 sites are fishing and hunting processing areas, ancestral village areas and tribal corridors.

“People were very mobile, prehistorically,” said Kristen Martine, Cultural Recourse Program manager for the Bonneville Power Administration.

Some of the most notable sites with human activity date back thousands of years and are underwater behind dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Celilo Falls, a dipnet fishery for thousands of years, is behind The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River. Marmes Rockshelter was occupied 10,000 years ago but now is underwater behind Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River.

“If we’re breaching dams, it would definitely change how we manage resources,” said Gail Celmer, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon ordered the environmental review in May after finding that a massive habitat restoration effort to offset the damage that dams in the Columbia River Basin pose to Northwest salmon runs was failing.

Salmon and steelhead runs are a fraction of what they were before modern settlement. Of the salmon and steelhead that now return to spawn each year, experts say, about 70 to 90 percent originate in hatcheries.

Those opposed to breaching the Snake River dams to restore salmon runs say the dams are an important part of the regional economy, providing irrigation, hydropower and shipping benefits.

Meanwhile, several tribes said they are better able to take part in the review process than they once were.

“Tribes have not had much opportunity to participate in these things because they didn’t have professional staff or trained people,” said Guy Moura of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington state, noting the tribe employed four people in its cultural resources program in 1992 but now has 38. “With growth in size, there also came the evolution of what was being done.”

The tribe at one time had a large fishery at Kettle Falls, on the upper part of the Columbia River, but it was inundated in the 1940s behind Grand Coulee Dam. Dams farther downstream on the Columbia prevent salmon from reaching the area.

Also among the 4,000 historical sites is Bonneville Dam, one of 14 dams involved in the environmental impact statement. Bonneville Dam is the lowest dam in the system at about 145 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. It started operating in the 1930s and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Violence in North Dakota: Water protectors attacked at barricade

More than 100 water protectors from the Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone Camps mobilized to a bridge to remove a barricade that was built by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and the state of North Dakota.

The barricade, built after law enforcement raided the 1851 treaty camp, restricts North Dakota residents from using the 1806 freely and also puts the community of Cannon Ball, the camps, and the Standing Rock Tribe at risk as emergency services are unable to use that highway.

Water Protectors used a semi-truck to remove two burned military trucks from the road and were successful at removing one truck from the bridge before police began to attack Water Protectors with tear gas, water canons, mace, rubber bullets, and sound cannons.

At 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 20, the Indigenous Rising Media team acquired an update from the Oceti Sakowin Medic team that nearly 200 people were injured, 12 people were hospitalized for head injuries, and one elder went into cardiac arrest at the front lines.

At this time, law enforcement was still firing rubber bullets and the water cannon at Water Protectors. About 500 Water protectors gathered at the peak of the non-violent direct action.

A statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network…

The North Dakota law enforcement are cowards. Those who are hired to protect citizens attacked peaceful water protectors with water cannons in freezing temperatures and targeted their weapons at people’s’ faces and heads.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the North Dakota State Patrol, and the Governor of North Dakota are committing crimes against humanity. They are accomplices with the Dakota Access Pipeline LLC and its parent company Energy Transfer Partners in a conspiracy to protect the corporation’s illegal activities.

Anyone investing and bankrolling these companies are accomplices. If President Obama does nothing to stop this inhumane treatment of this country’s original inhabitants, he will become an accomplice. And there is no doubt that President Elect Donald Trump is already an accomplice as he is invested in DAPL”

Tribal vote endorses legalizing marijuana use on Wisconsin reservation

Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe endorsed legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana use on a northeastern Wisconsin reservation.

Tribal leaders referred to the endorsement as an advisory vote, with about 77 percent of tribal citizens voting for medical marijuana and 58 backing recreational use.

Next, said chairman Gary Besaw, tribal legislators will study whether to move forward.

The U.S. Justice Department said in 2014 that it would not interfere with tribes seeking to legalize and regulate marijuana.

However, tribes have been cautious about moving forward.

“This is all new ground we’re breaking,” Besaw said, according to the AP. “It’s hard to get definitive answers.”

Asked whether the tribe would consider commercial sales — selling marijuana to non-members — Besaw said only that the tribe would defer to the U.S. attorney’s office in Wisconsin in interpreting the Justice Department’s 2014 memorandum.

In South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux announced plans to develop a pot-selling operation, the U.S. attorney warned that non-Indians would be breaking the law if they used pot on the reservation.

Besaw said, “People more clearly understand the benefit of medicinal marijuana. Even those who voted no on the recreational have said … we know there is value in medicinal marijuana and there clearly are individuals who benefit from it.”

About 13 percent of the tribe’s 9,000 members cast ballots.

Madison school district bans American Indian team logos

Sports fans may have to leave their Blackhawks, Indians or Redskins gear at home if they plan on entering a Madison public school next year.

Starting this fall, public school students in Wisconsin’s capital city cannot wear shirts, hats or other items that display the name, logo or mascot of any team that portrays a “negative stereotype” of American Indians. Those who do must change or face suspension or expulsion.

The existence of these mascots destroys our self-esteem. The existence of these mascots shows us how people really think of us,” Gabriel Saiz, a junior at Madison West High, told the city school board in May shortly before it voted unanimously to adopt the policy.

The district’s dress code says a list of prohibited logos and mascots would be made available before the beginning of the school year.

The move comes some two years after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law that made it harder for the state’s public schools to drop tribal nicknames. The measure was prompted by officials in a handful of Wisconsin cities who refused to part with mascots such as the Chieftains and the Indians after the state Department of Public instruction ordered them to drop the monikers. Previous state law allowed the state agency to launch a hearing into each race-based nickname with a single complaint. Current law requires a petition to trigger the hearing.

Larry Dupuis, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said he was not pleased with the Madison school district’s move. He said it limits students’ free speech and seems counterproductive by stifling conversation about American Indian portrayals.

“This kind of Band-Aid doesn’t fix these sorts of underlying problems,” Dupuis said. “What a horrible thing to tell kids that we can’t discuss these ideas, that we should avert our eyes to this.”

Brian Howard, a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, welcomed the ban, which he said was the first he’d heard of in a public school. He said a private school, Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland, approved a much more limited ban in February against only the word “Redskins,” the mascot of the Washington, D.C. NFL team. The school doesn’t require uniforms.

“If people are asked to turn their shirts inside out, that’s going to get people talking,” Howard said. “They’re going to ask, `Why?’ They’re always going to inquire about it.”

Republican State Rep. Andre Jacque said that not all American Indians reject the mascots. He pointed to Mishicot, a village in his district where local tribe spokesmen have approved of the public school district’s mascot – the Indian.

“Native American mascots have served as a point of pride for Native American students and fans,” Jacque said.

Thirty-one Wisconsin high schools use Indian mascots and logos, said Barbara Munson, an Oneida Indian who chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s mascots and logos task force.

Erdrich wins Library of Congress fiction prize

Novelist Louise Erdrich will be honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction this year.

Erdrich is the author of such acclaimed novels as “Love Medicine,” “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse,” “The Plague of Doves” and her current novel, “The Round House.”

Librarian of Congress James Billington announced the recipient of the fiction prize earlier this week.

Erdrich will receive the prize pn Sept. 5 at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Billington says Erdrich has had a remarkable string of novels in which she portrayed her fellow Native Americans like no other writer has, by exploring the cultural challenges that native and mixed-race Americans face.

On her Facebook page, Erdrich thanked those who congratulated her on the award. And, she wrote, “It seems that these awards are given to a writer entirely different from the person I am — ordinary and firmly fixed… Given the life I lead, it is surprising these books got written. Maybe I owe it all to my first job — hoeing sugar beets. I stare at lines of words all day and chop out the ones that suck life from the rest of the sentence. Eventually all those rows add up.”

Erdrich is the third winner of the fiction prize, following E.L. Doctorow last year and Don DeLillo in 2013.

On the Web …


Call to action: KXL opponents to march on Washington April 27

A coalition of tribal communities, ranchers, farmers, Canadian First Nations, environmental groups and communities along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route announced the Reject and Protect action in Washington, D.C.

The action will begin with a the arrival of activists on horseback on April 22, which is Earth Day, and it will culminate with a march on April 27.

An announcement of the event from the Cowboy and Indian Alliance — a group of tribal communities, farmers and ranchers united to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — was in a letter organizers sent to hundreds of thousands of activists.

The Reject and Protect campaign is endorsed by a number of groups, whose leaders issued statements of support. They include:

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader among the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota people: “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of mankind.  Do you think that the creator would create unnecessary people in a time of danger? Know that you are essential to this world. The biggest cancer spreading upon Mother Earth is the tar sands.”

Tom Genung, Nebraska Landowner: “As a land owner and a pipeline fighter, it is an honor and privilege to stand together with tribal brothers and sisters. It is our duty to protect the sacred for the seven generations to come. We stand together as one people working together to help President Obama take measures for clean environmental decisions which includes denial of TransCanada’s permit which has no legal route in our great state of Nebraska.”

Chief Reuben George, Tsleil-Waututh: “One thing I can say right off the bat is that we are winning. When we come together like this, we become stronger. There is no price for our water and lands.  The lessons we receive from Mother Earth is to become better human beings.  We give back to the earth and the land.  The pipelines do not do that.  We are going to win!”

Hilton Kelley, founder and director of Community In-Power and Development Association: “The people living on the Gulf of Mexico in the City of Port Arthur, TX and Houston, TX are disproportionately impacted by refinery and chemical plant emissions. A large number of our residents at this present time are suffering from respiratory issues, cancer and liver and kidney disease, If the tar sands material is piped into our community for refining at the neighboring plants, there will be a serious increase in the emission levels into the very air we breathe. Our state government has not been much help in supporting our efforts to reduce the toxins in our air; we most certainly hope that we can depend on our federal Government to protect those in the low income and people of color communities as well as all others.”

Bill McKibben, 350.org founder: “It was native people and Nebraska ranchers that really started this battle, and so it’s so fitting that they’re the ones leading this last appeal to the president to do the right thing. We’ve gone wrong in this country before when we didn’t listen to its original inhabitants; let’s hope Keystone becomes the opportunity to show we’re wising up.”

Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton Sioux: “We are writing a new history by standing on common ground by preventing the black snake of Keystone XL from risking our land and water. We have thousands of Native sacred sites that will be affected adversely. The Americans facing eminent domain now know what it felt like for us to lose land to a foreign country.  There is no fairness or rationale to justify the risk of polluting our waterways with benzene and other carcinogens. Native people are ready to speak for the four-leggeds and the grandchildren who cannot speak for themselves. The answer is no pipeline.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director: “The April 27 ’Reject and Protect’ march will focus on the communities on the front line of the Keystone XL tar sands fight. Dirty tar sands threaten our climate, and they threaten the health and well-being of the people who live along the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route. For these families, nothing short of their water, land, and their children’s safety is at stake.  The Sierra Club is proud to stand with these communities and call on President Obama to reject dirty and dangerous tar sands once and for all.”

Roger Milk, Rosebud Sioux: “This just isn’t an Indian thing. We all drink the same water.”

Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska executive director: “Tribal and ranching communities protect our neighbors first and foremost. That is at our core. We will bring our pipeline fighting spirit to Washington, DC in order for President Obama to see our faces so he knows he is not making a decision about a line on a map, he is making a decision about our families and our neighbors. The President said he wants to be able to look at his daughters and say ‘yes he did’ do everything he could to combat climate change. We intend to ensure he honors his word.”

Gary Dorr, Nez Perce, Shielding the People media coordinator: “We will Stand the Line.”

Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition executive director: “Indigenous communities and ranchers are fighting to stop Keystone XL as a matter of survival, and it’s time that we and President Obama stand with them to stop this dirty and destructive project from ruining their land and water. For too long indigenous communities have encouraged us to look out for future generations and our country has ignored them. This must end with the Keystone decision, nothing short of our future is at stake.”

Becky Bond, CREDO political director: “People literally living on the frontlines of our fight against Keystone XL will be taking their case directly to the president in April. We stand in solidarity with the ranchers and tribes whose lands and waters face imminent danger from the imposition of a dirty pipeline by a foreign oil company. And CREDO joins over 86,000 people who are willing to risk arrest if necessary to back up that solidarity with action.”

On Twitter: #NOKXL

Private militias, Capitol arrests spur outrage

Owners of a proposed open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills engaged a paramilitary force to guard the area after Native American  tribal leaders established an “education center” nearby.

The camp has drawn numerous environmentalists and protesters to the scene of the hotly contested project.

The Iron County Board recently postponed voting on a recommendation to pursue criminal or civil action against the campers. But county supervisors did agree to ask their forestry committee to take another look at the Penokee Harvest and Education Camp set up by the Lac Courte Orielles band of Lake Superior Chippewa near the site of Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, over the objection of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes and many citizens in the region, eased the way for the mining operation earlier this year by signing legislation that relaxed pollution and other regulations.

A website for the tribe describes the off-reservation camp on Iron County forest land as a place to “educate visitors and locals about geology, ecology, traditional lifeways and Anishinaabe treaty rights.”

In late May, after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved a permit for Gogebic to conduct exploratory drilling in the area, the camp population began to grow. Environmentalists responded to the tribe’s invitation to “come relax in the woods while giving your vacation a purpose.”

In July, the Iron County Board forestry committee recommended that supervisors take legal action against the camp. The county forest administrator complained that the camp violates a county ordinance requiring a permit to occupy the land for more than two weeks.

However, District Attorney Marty Lipske cautioned that under treaty rights – treaties of 1837 and 1842 – the tribe has special privileges on the forest land.

And representatives from the camp say they are staying, even if they received an eviction notice from the county. 

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services opened an investigation after receiving complaints related to Gogebic Taconite’s hiring of an Arizona firm, Bulletproof Securities, to police the area. The armed guards were assigned to protect the mining operations after conflicts with protesters that resulted in the arrest of one demonstrator said to be associated with Earth First.

On its website, Bulletproof Securities promotes its “strong record of accurately assessing risk and providing a security solution to control the risk rather than react to it” and promises experience in personal security detail, dealing with eco-terrorism and economic sabotage, border security, de-bugging, and armored vehicles services.

Gogebic defended employing the guards, but suspended their work after it was revealed that Bulletproof lacked a license to work in Wisconsin. Then, on Aug. 5, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services announced the firm is now licensed and the guards would soon return to the site.

Several Democratic lawmakers objected to the paramilitary-style guards, who were photographed in camouflage uniforms and masks, carrying semi-automatic weapons on public land.

Democratic state Sen. Bob Jauch called any aggression by protesters “idiotic,” but said nothing justified the hiring of a security force armed with assault weapons.

“The majority party in Wisconsin has a track record of not following the law, so it’s no surprise that their special interest friends were found acting in an illegal manner,” said state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, referring to Bulletproof as “an out-of-state heavily armed, private paramilitary militia.”

Repressive dictatorship?

Sargent also took issue with the repeated arrests of peaceful protesters assembling daily at the state Capitol for the Solidarity Sing Along.

“I am appalled that the Walker Administration has decided to forcibly silence the voices of those who wish to peaceably assemblewwww in our state capitol,” Sargent said. “Time and again, Scott Walker has pushed policies that have inspired the people of our state to speak out. Whether it’s 20 people or 100,000, the right to free speech is not up for debate. It is enshrined in our state constitution.”

The Solidarity Sing Along dates to March 2011 and the massive protests against Walker’s push to limit collective bargaining and the rights of state workers, along with other items on the tea party agenda. Every weekday since, there has been a sing along at the Capitol at noon.

In late July, authorities began arresting the singers, citing them for demonstrating in the Rotunda without a permit. The arrests came five months after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the Walker administration from requiring permits for demonstrations inside the Capitol for groups as small as four people.

On July 8, the judge in the case granted a preliminary injunction allowing groups of up to 20 people to gather without a permit inside the Capitol and a trial date on the merits of the ACLU case was set for Jan. 13, 2014.

ACLU of Wisconsin legal director Larry Dupuis cheered the judge’s action as a “huge victory for free speech.” 

But soon after the judge issued the temporary injunction, Capitol police began arresting protesters, whose songbook includes variations on “We Shall Overcome,” “This Land is Your Land” and “If I Had a Hammer,” along with some relatively new folk tunes, including “The Koch Song” and “Scotty, We’re Comin’ for You.”

The demonstrators, whose numbers have exceeded 20 people, refuse to get permits, maintaining they have a right to protest under the Wisconsin Constitution. Article 1, Section 4 of the document states, “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

After witnessing arrests on July 24, Sargent said, “What I saw today was something I would expect out of a repressive dictatorship, not the state I love to call home.”

Corruption in Wis. is so obvious that it’s blinding

It reads like a story from The Onion: “Mining company re-writes environmental rules for its polluting project.”

But it’s true. A billionaire Florida magnate and other business interests that stand to profit from a proposed mine in the Penokee Hills gave GOP Wisconsin officials at least $15.6 million. And in return, those officials allowed Gogebic Taconite to write the environmental regulations surrounding the project.

As a result, the mining bill now before the Assembly will:

• Prevent local residents from having any input into the project.

• Expose the state’s most pristine wetlands to arsenic, lead, and mercury.

• Allow Gogebic Taconite to contaminate groundwater with impunity.

• Let the mining company remove large quantities of water from lakes, rivers and streams already at historically low levels.

• Jeopardize Lake Superior, the largest and cleanest of the Great Lakes.

The fat-cat Republicans who support this heinous measure will grow even fatter from the project. They’ve convinced their tea party acolytes that the mine will bring a few hundred jobs to job-starved Wisconsin. It’s a lie. The few good jobs associated with the mining project will require expertise that’s not found in Wisconsin. Gogebic will bring in their out-of-state workers to fill those positions.

Besides, the state’s GOP leadership already has eliminated thousands of government, transportation and alternative energy jobs for the benefit of their moneyed backers. Now they say we have to permanently destroy a significant swath of our state for those same robber barons.

The proposed iron ore mine will leave an ugly gash covering as much as 21,000 acres in one of the state’s most beautiful regions and most significant natural habitats. It could destroy wetlands that are a sacred food source to Native Americans in the region, thus potentially breaking a long-standing treaty with the federal government. 

The state’s current Republican leadership has in fact done nothing to support job growth or the quality of life in Wisconsin. It has made economic decisions solely for the uber-wealthy, out-of-state titans of industry who will presumably finance Gov. Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

Walker has decimated our present and our future by appointing unqualified cronies to fill important business-development positions. His much-touted Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has been plagued by scandal, including the shocking disappearance of $56 million in funds.

Yet, under the terms of the GOP’s mining bill, 40 percent of the tax proceeds from the proposed mine will line the WEDC’s crooked coffers. Which of the governor’s friends will be the beneficiaries of that payday?

Instead of opening Wisconsin up for business, Walker has put it up for sale. In other states, most notably our neighbor to the south, officials have gone to prison for such pay-to-play schemes and malfeasance.

Yet as the criminal probe of Walker’s operations as Milwaukee County Executive drones on, Walker manages to avoid absorbing the stench of it, even as one after another of his former close associates are convicted.

Only a blind electorate would permit such transparently egregious behavior from elected officials. Maybe they’re blinded by the unusual transparency of it all.